Ain't It Cool News (
Movie News

Capone talks Clooney, airports, and pie charts with UP IN THE AIR writer-director Jason Reitman!!!

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here. If anyone ever bothered to tally such things, it wouldn't surprise me a bit if UP IN THE AIR writer (adapting the book by Walter Kirn) and director Jason Reitman was the most interviewed director of the year. There are very few magazine, newspapers or online sites that haven't carried or soon will carry a chat with the extremely personable man who also helmed 2005's THANK YOU FOR SMOKING and the Oscar-winning JUNO (as well as a couple of choice episodes of "The Office"), I briefly met Reitman after a Chicago screening of SMOKING. I knew that one of our Austin folks would be formally interviewing him a couple days later, so I really just wanted to say hello and introduce myself. We ended up talking for about 10 minutes while a group of well wishers and autograph seekers gathered around us. He was incredibly personable and very aware of the bazillion of so movie sites that would be reviewing his first feature in the weeks to come. Reitman has been on a non-stop publicity blitz since UP IN THE AIR premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in early September, followed immediately by much-talked-about screenings at Toronto. While on this press tour, Reitman has done two very amusing things: kept followers wonderfully up to date on his travels via Twitter (@JasonReitman) and he kept a running count (via a pie chart) of what topics he was getting questions on from journalists in each city he visited (and yes, pretty soon, the subject of the pie chart actually made the pie chart). No pressure at all, Mr. Reitman. But all of that kind of disappears when you're talking to him. He has no shortage of great stories and anecdotes to share, will answer any question, and is clearly and rightfully proud of UP IN THE AIR, currently my favorite film of 2009 and a clear front runner come awards season. Please enjoy my talk with Jason Reitman…
Jason Reitman: I just came from Austin. I had lunch with some of your comrades Capone: I know I can smell the Salt Lick on your skin! JR: [Laughs] It was fun. It was like a meeting of the minds, it was Harry, Quint, and Peter from SlashFilm was there. Yeah, so it was fun. Capone: This will not be that exciting. JR: No? Capone: Not that I won't try. JR: I like your recorder, though. Do you mind if I take a photo of you? [Another thing Reitman did during every interview was take photos of the journalists that he spoke with. Not sure where those photos landed.] Capone: It’s the same recorder as Quint has actually, but his is black. JR: Oh really? He saw yours and was jealous? Capone: No, other way around. [Laughs] I want to thank you in advance for putting up that pie chart, so I knew exactly which questions to ask. [Reitman laughs loudly] Capone: You have answers prepared for all of the highest pullers, I assume. JR: Exactly! Capone: [I open up my notebook with questions and accidentally open it up to question I'd had the day before for a Liev Schreiber interview I'd done the day before] Oh wait, you're not Liev Schreiber… JR: [laughs] Oh please, ask me the Live Schreiber questions! Capone: What do you like better--Shakespeare or David Mamet? JR: Seriously, can we just do an interview where I only answer Liev Schreiber questions? Capone: You are more than welcome to. If you want to talk about having kids with Naomi Watts and… JR: Are they together? Capone: Yeah. They aren’t married, but yeah they have a couple of kids. JR: That was one of your questions? Capone: No, that was not one of my questions. We don't really ask personal questions. JR: So who do I like better--Shakespeare or David Mamet? Capone: We talked about his theater work JR: Mamet over Shakespeare any day! Capone: He’s done more Shakespeare, but apparently he killed in GLENGARY GLEN ROSS a couple of years ago on stage. I asked him about playing Orson Welles in that HBO movie a few years back. JR: He was good in that. Capone: I always like the movies he made like in the mid-'90s. There was this little explosion of New York indie stuff, like WALKING AND TALKING, and he was in a lot of those. I don't think it lasted long enough to call it an "age" or "movement," but it was like a little mini punk explosion of movies that had a lot of the same people in it, so we talked about that. Okay, I bet no one has asked you this question… JR: Alright, here we go. Capone: You use “This Land Is Your Land” by Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings as the opening song of your movie. It’s an awesome version of that song. I have it on my iPod. Her songs are in regular rotation in my household. How did you come up with that choice? JR: Where did I find it, or why did I use it? Capone: It’s pretty easy to find, but yeah why did you use it? That immediately endeared me to whatever came after. I love that song, and I have never heard anyone use Sharon’s music so effectively. JR: I'm a big fan of hers, obviously. Have you listened to the Menahan Street Band yet? They're on the same label, and you would love them. Capone: I love the whole way that they are running and promoting that label, Daptone Records. JR: The Menahan Street Band is fantastic. For one, I like music that has an older sound, where you can kind of hear the room, and that’s what is so great about that label, it’s the only label where the people making the music really really sounds like they made it in the sixties in that house in Detroit, you know? In that basement. And there was this obvious connection of “This Land Is Your Land,” just talking about the country, so I put it in my iTunes library for UP IN THE AIR. I have a library of like 200 songs or so for UP IN THE AIR, and they all go to the editor and we start cutting with them. It was never intended to be in the movie. Originally the opening title song was going to be Hank William’s “Ramblin' Man.” That was going to be the opening and closing title song, and the first time we screened it, we screened it that way. But it got to the place where I was like “You know, this is not working. It’s not the right energy.” I was going through that library, and I stopped on the Sharon Jones track and was like “Oh, this is right.” We put it in and it killed, and the opening title people started cutting to that instead, so there was a sequence where they cut the whole opening titles to “Ramblin' Man.” Capone: When you think about the time that that song was written and the images that you are showing with it, just those overhead city shots, that is not what that song is about, but when you put those things together it, they go so well together. JR: I think it was a labor movement song when it was first created. Capone: I don’t think Sharon Jones sings all of the verses, but there are some pretty hardcore “screw the establishment, screw property owners” lyrics in that song. But when you think of that, there’s an immediate contrast. Clooney’s character wants to have this disconnect from other people, and he squanders it. He doesn’t travel for fun; he travels for work. And that song is a celebration of America, and yet all it is the way you use it are these cities that don’t mean anything to him. JR: Yeah, well I wanted to shoot a movie where the character saw America in two ways, he saw it like this [puts his hand in the air, as if it's looking down] from 20,000 feet up in the air, and then he saw it like this [gestures at the hotel room we're sitting in] when he’s in a hotel or an airport and he never actually sees any cities. He can claim to have been to every city in America, but he has actually never seen any of them. Capone: Yeah, but I love that idea how he’s about a certain kind of freedom, but not the freedom to do anything really interesting with his life. I read somewhere that the Denver airport was sort of an inspiration? JR: I love the Denver airport. Capone: Why? What is it about that airport? JR: It’s the Denver United terminal, and it’s just this mile long straightaway of four moving walkways going every direction with destinations just along each side, visible as you move past them, and you can't help but think about the endless possible lives you could have if you get on just about any of those planes. There’s an astronaut statue that they keep right in the center of it that I always thought was an interesting metaphor for flight. There are these giant windows, so you can see planes going by. It’s perfect. It’s big. It’s open. It’s beautiful. I love being in there and it makes me happy when I am there, so it’s my ideal version of flight. Chicago is nice. I love the underground tunnel between the B and C [United] terminals. It’s good, but it’s not quite as nice as Denver, partly because Denver is carpeted and Chicago is tile. Capone: [Laughs] United does make memorable terminals I guess. JR: Some of them. Some of them are nasty. There are some bad terminals out there. Capone: You have been traveling with this film. It’s been showing at festivals now for a couple of months. Are you eager to just get it out there? Like have people who aren’t critics or festivalgoers see it? JR: Oh yes. It’s maddening! People like the movie and I want it out there, but thus is the journey. And I go quick, too. I shot March to May and the movie showed for the first time in September. Think about that and how fast that is. I fly. I can make a movie from the start of shooting in six months. That’s nothing and you cover this stuff, so you know. It usually takes people a year. I like it done, so now that it’s like this, I’m just like “Come on.” Capone: Does it have a fixed release date? JR: Yeah, December 4th in some cities, and then wide by Christmas. Capone: George Clooney is a difficult guy in general to not like, and I think that there are certainly moments in this film when you are not supposed to like him as much. JR: Really? When were you not supposed to like him? Capone: Especially when we meet his family, we realize that a lot of them don’t like him, and you are like “Wow, I think there might be something about him that we are not supposed to like, because they don’t like him and I like the family.” It’s not that he’s doing things that you'd hate him for, but we get the impression occasionally that his lifestyle is not necessarily one that we are supposed to admire. But it’s George Clooney, so it makes it a little bit more difficult to dislike him, but is it more important to you that we understand him or admire him? JR: For me, it’s not even like or dislike, I’m trying to make him as authentic as possible and considering his job and his philosophy, make him at least not unlikable. That’s kind of the gig. Everyone is going to have their own take on him, and I want my filmmaking to be just as clean as possible, so that everyone can have their own opinion, but I don’t want to present him as unlikable, which is the obvious choice that most directors would. If you have a guy who fires people for a living or a guy who is the big lobbyist for big tobacco or you have got a teenage pregnant girl, the obvious choice is to shed some sort of a negative light on them in one way or the other, and it’s my position as a director that I specifically don’t want to do that. I wanted to leave it up to the audience to make their own judgment call and people generally do. I get business travelers who love him in the beginning of the movie, and I like him a lot. I identify with him at the beginning of the movie, so it’s person to person. Capone: I detest it when a director forces an opinion on somebody. JR: Me too. It drives me crazy, and it happens a lot. I think there’s this kind of presumption that that’s what you are supposed to do and that’s what people like and I don’t know. That’s one of the reasons I love Alexander Payne. He’s the best at it. Capone: It’s interesting again that one of the themes in the film is that he is threatened by this young woman who is using technology to encumber his lifestyle, and it’s been said, especially with the rise of computers and the Internet, that technology is that thing that is disconnecting us as a society. To me, that would seem to gel with his philosophy, and yet he insists on having that personal connection with someone that he is firing. JR: There’s a nice irony to it, and I like that it actually doesn’t fit perfectly. Capone: He is full of contradictions. JR: You would think that it would just be perfect for him, but no he definitely wants to stay on the road, and he definitely believes in the dignity of what he does, that there’s a right and a wrong way to do things. Capone: I’m such a huge fan of Vera Farmiga, and I hate it when I see her in a movie where someone is trying to put her in the background, because she is definitely someone that needs to be in front of you. When she comes on screen, she is in the foreground and what you do with her here is so wonderful. As soon as she comes onto the screen, it’s their movie--it’s not his movie with her in it. I’m sure you've seen DOWN TO THE BONE. I got a chance to interview her a couple years back, and she basically admitted that nearly every job that she’s gotten since she made that movie is because of that movie. JR: It was the first thing I saw her in. I was actually there for one of the first screenings of it, and it was like “Holy shit, who is this woman?” I’ve seen a lot of the work since and she’s a hell of an actress. She’s a real woman. Capone: And I’m assuming it was ROCKET SCIENCE that was the first thing you saw Anna Kendrick in? JR: Yeah. I wrote both of their roles for them. I wrote Anna and Vera’s roles for each of them, and I saw Anna in ROCKET SCIENCE. “I upped her game little man,” and all those other great lines in that movie. You have seen ROCKET SCIENCE, right? Oh my god, the way she talks in that is like “Who is this frightening little girl?” Yeah, I wrote it for her. Capone: Did you spend the whole time you had with her just milking her for information on the TWILIGHT movies? JR: I could give two shits about the TWILIGHT movies. Ay yay yay. I just felt bad for her having to go back to that set. She’s sitting here on my set doing great dialogue with George and fucking acting and real shit, and then she had to go back to Vancouver and be like “Oh my God, Bella!” [Laughs] Capone: She doesn’t even get to be a vampire or anything cool, just the friend. You don’t strike me as the kind of actor…I'm sorry, I mean, director… JR: Are we doing the Liev Schreiber thing again? Capone: No, but I’m about to ask an actor question. You don't strike me as a director who interferes with the actors much. You hire them knowing that they know what they are doing. JR: As much as I don’t have to. If they are in the zone… I’d rather not talk to them at all and not in a bad sense. I like my actors, but I’d rather not direct their performance if it doesn’t require directing. I do as little as I have to and try to use as much of their natural shit as possible. Capone: Was Clooney always the first choice here? This was written for him as well? JR: Oh yeah, always. Capone: Why? JR: For all of the obvious reasons. Look, even he read the script and said, “I can see how people are going to make connections between my persona and this character, and I’m ready to stare that straight in the eyes.” I like actors who are using a part as some sort of self-examination and this certainly offered that. Capone: In the same way that you are as the writer. I’ve read somewhere where you have said this is probably the closest you will ever get to writing an original screenplay. Why is it you won’t write an original screenplay? JR: It’s hard to imagine myself writing an original screenplay. I’m a reactive artist. I like to see something and go “Oh, I know how to make that into a movie,” and that’s not to say I don’t know how to write originally. Anna and Vera’s characters aren’t even in the book, you know. It’s like I know how to write, I know how to come up with shit. It’s just usually I have my own questions when I read a book and get inspired, and that’s not to say I won't; you never know. But each time I’ve sat down to write an original, it just doesn’t feel quite as right. Capone: So this is some thing you have tried, though. JR: Oh yeah, certainly at the beginning when I was just learning to write, I wrote four or five original screenplays just to learn how to write a bad screenplay. I believe in that Robert Rodriguez principle that you’ve got to write a bunch of bad and direct a bunch of bad before you can figure out how to direct and write good. I got a good 500, 600 pages of bad screenplay that I got out of my system before I started writing well, but yeah I’m working with Jenny Lumet right now on her original screenplay [titled SEE ALSO: SAMBO] and I’m about to adapt a Joyce Maynard book called LABOR DAY. So as a writer, my primary job right now is to adapt that book; that feels most natural. Capone: I wasn’t going to bring this up until later, but since you are talking about producing things as well, I read somewhere that you are doing something with the Duplass brothers? JR: Yeah, I’m producing their film. Capone: I’m a massive Mark Duplass fan. Not that I don’t love Jay, but Mark as an actor, I love that he’s coming into his own and getting recognized. I must have seen him in two or three movies at SXSW, and it was because of him actually that I begged the distributors of HUMPDAY to let me screen it here. JR: I still haven’t seen it. I have got to see HUMPDAY. He’s a real talent. Capone: Yeah, he’s got that new TV show now on FX that he’s the star of. I just saw the first episode, and it just cracked me up. He is so natural. I almost hate the idea of somebody writing something for him, because he’s so good at just making it up. Can you talk a little bit about what they are working on? JR: Not really, apart from the fact that it’s an original screenplay of theirs, we are going to start in April, we’ve got an amazing cast that I can’t say who it is yet, but it’s two terrific actors. I just think they are inspiring filmmakers, and if I can help them get their movie made and made the right way, then I feel very prideful about it. Capone: Back to the film, we were talking about adding characters and you said that you added characters to this story and you did that too with THANK YOU FOR SMOKING, you added at least one that I know, the son. Do you have pause before you do something that different? JR: No. On this movie, firing online is my invention, the backpack speech is my invention, the wedding is my invention, and the cardboard cutout idea is my invention. So much of this movie is my creating new plot. I don’t think twice about it. Capone: The backpack speech--I have seen in other movies where they have had motivational speakers who don’t sound or act like real motivational speakers, so I applaud that you actually got him to deliver a speech that I feel like I've heard version of before. JR: They are good. They are not usually over-the-top bullshit artists, the way that they are portrayed on screen. There is a reason why these people connect. I remember when I was making THANK YOU FOR SMOKING, I went to see a guy from Altria--Altria is the new name for Philip Morris--so it was a Philip Morris guy and I always loved that by the way, that they chose Altria like "altruistic." I always thought “What is 'benevolentia' not taken?” I went to see a guy from Altria speak, and he was magnificent. I mean he was truly great. He spoke on a panel against Jeff Wigand, the guy they made the movie THE INSIDER about ,and Wigand can’t hold himself, and he’s just a mess on the stage and this guy from Philip Morris was just smoking him. It was a nice reminder of just like “When you get the best that money can buy, the best that money can buy is good." And they know how to talk and not in a bullshit way, because you know when you feel like you are being bullshitted too, and nobody wants that. You want a guy who actually reaches across and holds your hand and makes you feel good. Capone: I’ve seen guys who deliver it like George does; there’s a very normal conversational tone where you almost have to lean in physically to hear it and that’s a very subtle move. I’ve seen it done in movies too, where they have a quiet scene and people have to lean in. That gives you like a connection you have never had before. Both Nick from THANK YOU FOR SMOKING and Ryan in UP IN THE AIR live these lives that I think a lot of people would think right-thinking human beings wouldn’t want to live, but you can't help but admire their conviction. Does that resonate with you in a way? JR: Yeah, and I don’t see anything wrong with what either of those guys do, and that’s why I think I’m the perfect guy to direct these movies. I always presume that there are more people out there like me, who don’t see anything wrong and go “You know what? Big tobacco needs a lobbyist.” They need a spokesperson and everyone deserves a defense. And someone’s got to fire people; that’s just a fact of life. These are far more interesting characters to humanize than the person getting fired. There are plenty of people willing to make a movie about the guy getting fired. There are plenty of people who want to make a movie about Jeff Wigand. I want to make a movie about the other guy! I want to make a movie about the guy that everyone thinks is the devil who is actually just a human being. That’s just what interests me. Capone: You mentioned the people who are getting fired, where did you get those people? Obviously, there are a couple we recognize… JR: We put an ad out in the paper. Capone: So those are not actors? JR: They are not actors. Capone: Most of them didn’t feel like actors. JR: There are five actors, the ones that you recognized, Zach Galifianakis, J. K. Simmons and stuff--anyone who has long dialogue scenes is obviously an actor. But the other 25, we put an ad out in the paper. We said we were making a documentary about job loss. We did that to weed out actors specifically. People sent in essays and photos, and we chose about a hundred to come in. Sixty were put on camera and 25 are in the finished film. They are just real, and that’s exactly what I wanted. Capone: That’s great. Those scenes don't feel written either. JR: No, we would just fire them on camera. We would interview them for 10 minutes, and then we would fire them, and we would tell them to respond the way they did when they lost their job or however they wished they would have responded. They would begin improv scenes where they would go back and forth with our interviewer as if they were in their firing session, and it was emotional and real and they would get angry and they would cry. Capone: I haven’t read a lot of people talking about those scenes specifically, but those are perfect scenes. Tell me a little bit about that first teaser trailer… JR: How great is that? I’m so fucking proud of that. Capone: I remember showing it to people just saying “You have got to see this. Tell me you don’t want to see this movie.” I'd want to show it if only to figure out what the hell it’s about, because it’s an impossible movie to summarize in 15 seconds. You can’t do it without starting to launch into that story. JR: Someone just created a website called and I’m so excited. Basically we were trying to do a trailer and they kept cutting trailers, and it was exactly like you said, how do you fucking cut a trailer that doesn’t just tell you the story? And I said to the editor who cut trailers for all of my movies, who's a really good editor--the JUNO and SMOKING trailers were both really good. And I said “Why don’t you try taking the ‘We are not swans, we are sharks’ speech, the whole thing, the first half, which is at the beginning of the movie, and the second half ,which is at the middle of the movie. Cut them together and I want you to cut footage starting with footage that shows how separated he is from the world and throughout it, show him connecting with people, so that it ironically juxtaposes against what he’s saying. Even though by the end he’s talking about how you can’t connect with people, we are seeing visually that he has to.” I said, “Why don’t you use a Charles Atlas song ["Genova"],” and the first time he showed it to me, I was like “Oh my God!” I made very few adjustments. His first cut was really good, and that could go down as my favorite trailer of my films at the end of the day, and I think 20, 30 years from now, I'll say the same thing. Capone: I don’t remember ever seeing a trailer that’s like it. JR: The STRANGE DAYS trailer with Ralph Fiennes, do you remember that one, where he would make his pitch to camera? That’s a good trailer that just had a guy talking into the camera, different but it was unusual in the way it was done. Thank you for bringing that up, I love that trailer. I had friends, like directors I know call me up like “Holy shit, dude, holy shit.” I had a guy who was in the middle of shooting a movie and he’s like “I’m supposed to go to set tomorrow; that trailer’s so fucking good.” Actors I know are like “I watched your trailer like five times in a row. I love that fucking trailer." You know what I have been that way about? That TRON thing… Have you seen that? Capone: The one that they played at Comic-Con last year? The one with the scene of the race and then the Jeff Bridges reveal? JR: Oh man. I fucking love that. I have watched it so many times. It’s badass; I’m so excited for that film. Capone: What happened to the shot of the burning crop circle? JR: I was never in the movie. Capone: Really? JR: It’s funny and I have gotten asked about that fucking crop circle. It’s a beautiful shot and by the way I think this actually perfectly speaks to the kind of director that I am. I love that shot. It’s a startling shot. I looked all over the movie for a place for it. There is no place for it in the movie, and I refuse to put something in the movie that doesn’t have its place. That’s how I am about every scene, every line of dialogue, everything. I don’t care how much I love it and I love that shot. But if it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit and I will not force it. If you look at my movies, you can say what you want about them, you like them or you don’t like them. You don’t like the kind of stances I take at the end, whatever. You can’t say that I’m not ruthless with my cut. There is no extra fat on my films, and I am tonally very specific and decisive, and I love that shot and when we went to make the trailer, I was like “You have got to use this fucking shot, otherwise it’s never going to see the light of day.” That’s just it. Capone: I always want to know where those missing shots are. I talked to the DISTRICT 9 guys about that interrogation scene from the first trailer. “Where did it go?” JR: That’s right. You know what’s a better shot that’s in the trailer, but not in the movie? Capone: Which one? JR: It’s George and the guy walking next to each other, and the guy goes to say goodbye to George and a wall splits between them. It’s not in the movie. Capone: That’s right. I remember that. JR: It’s a great sequence and I loved it. I am never the guy who is like “Oh, I hated cutting that scene.” I just don’t give a shit. As soon as it’s gone, I’m like “Whatever.” There was the sequence from the book called "To Know Me Is To Fly With Me," and it was in the first act, and it was George in voiceover explaining what it’s like to fly with him. He goes through like 10 beats of a trip with him, one by one, with this guy that ends with the guy saying goodbye and then boom, he’s gone just like that when the wall splits them. I love that sequence. That will be on the DVD, but that’s not in the movie. Capone: There's one scene from the trailer that I’m glad this was in the film, because I think it speaks volumes--even though you don’t call attention to it--the scene where George is walking down the hall and that couple kind of embraces behind him. That speaks volumes about the difference between his character and most other people. JR: You know where I stole that from? Capone: No. JR: DIE HARD. That’s in one of the opening shots in DIE HARD. I don’t normally steal things, but that is a total lift from fucking DIE HARD. When Bruce Willis arrives in Los Angeles at the beginning of DIE HARD, he’s at LAX and he’s walking up, and this girl comes running past him and he thinks she’s running for him and runs into this other guy’s arms and he goes, “Fuckin' Los Angeles” and then walks on. [Laughs] I stole it from McTiernan. Capone: There are worse places to steal from. It was really great getting to chat with you about his movie. JR: Awesome! Capone: Thanks so much, man. I look forward to seeing it again. JR: I hope you will like it; I hope it doesn't let you down on repeat viewings. Capone: I didn't want to say this until we were done, but right now this is probably going to be my number one movie of the year. JR: Aw, dude, thank you so much. Wait until you see the Nancy Meyers' film [IT'S COMPLICATED]. Don’t jump to any conclusions! Capone: The Nancy Meyers' film? JR: I'm kidding. Capone: Or maybe the ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS sequel. JR: The SQUEAKQUEL! Wait for the SQUEAKQUEL before you pass judgment. Seriously though, you still have to see NINE and you still have to see IVICTUS. Capone: And I'll even save a little place for AVATAR. JR: I don't like the new trailer. Capone: I like it more than the first one. JR: I guess so, but you really base it on comparison? It doesn't look… I mean, I'm going to see it, but I have to admit, I keep watching the AVATAR trailer waiting for something to kind of grab me, and I'm like, "Really? This is the plot? This is kind of cheesy." I hope it delivers. Good seeing you again. Capone: Good seeing you. Thanks again.
-- Capone Follow Me On Twitter

Readers Talkback
comments powered by Disqus